There are two things I was afraid of when my husband Chris started seminary: that he would turn Presbyterian and that he would become prideful. One of these things almost happened, and the other didn’t even come close to happening most likely because the other one almost happened.
In regard to fear one, I tried to get Chris to make one pact with me before he started school at the DC Campus of Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS). It is not a joke when I say I tried to make him look me in the eyes and promise that he wouldn’t become Presbyterian (as if I can control belief). You see, I have Baptist in my blood, and I had this fear he would become Presbyo (as I used to lovingly call it) and then my whole church world would be rattled. In my limited knowledge, Presbyterianism simply meant “baptizing babies.” What would I do if he decided we needed to baptize our future children?
In regard to fear number two, you hear all the time about people “loosing their faith in seminary” because they “know a lot about God but don’t know God.” My husband is a pretty smart guy, and he has always enjoyed learning just for learning’s sake. Prior to seminary, I would sometimes see him study things that, while I understand are important, I didn’t understand why they are so important that people spend hours and hours and hours in debate about them. So I was concerned that going to seminary would involve endless hours of super detailed study about things that didn’t really matter in life, which would then result in a puffed up head of knowledge and no practical working out of that knowledge. I was on the lookout for this and decided I was going to make it my mission to point out if I saw him becoming arrogant about secondary matters. If there was anything I could do in my power, my husband was not going to lose his faith in seminary because of pride.
In observing him while in his studies, I first began to see his understanding and knowledge of the Bible grow exponentially. We’d be sitting in small groups with people and he would refer to some passage of scripture or express a theological thought that directly applied to the situation we were discussing. He began to do this more and more. I noticed he shared what he was learning not in a way that was prideful, but in a way that demonstrated he actually believed it not only for himself but for all of us. He shared as if he just wanted others to see what he learned about the greatness and love of God and how it was actually practical to life. He started saying things to me like “do you know that when God uses the term ‘steadfast love’ in the Bible, He is talking about His Covenantal love.” He would say randomly “union with Christ is such an amazing doctrine” as if he was thinking about a specific life situation and he just knew that without the reality of union with Christ, he would be floundering. I then noticed him starting to tear up every time he took communion. Like every time (and we take it weekly in our church). It became obvious to me pretty quickly that he wasn’t just learning this stuff, but it was changing Him. He wasn’t just learning more about God, but God’s love was becoming more real to Him. And he genuinely wanted others to know more of that love too.
The theme of God’s Covenantal Love is something that he spoke about often because he was learning about it often. At first I was a little skeptical of this idea because I knew it was the basis of a Presbyterian view of scripture (and I was afraid of turning Presbyterian). I will admit that I don’t know much about Covenant Theology. So when I write about this it’s like from the vantage point of a 5th grader who has heard about this thing called Geometry. But whether I know much about it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t impacted my life in a profound way, because I’m married to a man who has studied it and believes it. Practically speaking, I honestly believe it saved our marriage and helped him love me through a very difficult time.
You see, it was while Chris was in seminary I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Eventually, my experience of OCD became so debilitating we were making serious consideration as to whether we could live a life of ministry. And I felt horrible about it. We pulled back from our church planting plans, Chris’ dream, because of it. I felt like I ruined his life and career path. But in the midst of that struggle and my shame, at one point he told me I was the most important thing to him even over ministry and career. He put it pretty bluntly one time when he said, “I didn’t make a covenant with my career.”
It was that moment when he said the word “covenant” it all clicked. My husband wasn’t going anywhere. He was sticking around and loving me sacrificially in this trial, at the expense of his own dreams, because he believed in covenants. And he believed in covenants because he believed with all his heart that God was keeping His Covenant. And he believed God was keeping His Covenant to the depth that he did because he was learning about it in class after class in a Reformed seminary with Presbyterian professors. He was learning this theological truth isn’t just about a theory of viewing scripture, but that through Christ, the Steadfast Love of God binds itself to you and changes you. This covenant helps you love beyond yourself and stay when it’s hard. And so, I will always be grateful to RTS for instilling in my husband that covenants really do matter.
Chris was wanting to TA Hebrew last Fall. I confess, I was against this plan. He had worked as an adjunct English teacher during two semesters in seminary, and it was a stressful time constraint on top of school and work. But, in God’s providence, it turned out to be a huge blessing. Because of the extra time that he spent with the professor he TA’d for, his professor was able to disciple him during a very challenging time. Throughout his time at RTS, Chris received the benefit of not only mentorship but also legit pastoring from not just one professor but many. These men did more than just teach. They genuinely shepherded their students. Chris knows more of the love and care of a Great Shepherd because of it. And I know he is and will be a better shepherd to people because of it too.
Like I said, in regard to my two fears, one almost happened. This past fall, during his last year in seminary, we gave serious consideration to becoming Presbyterian. I will admit that after experiencing the love and grace of so many Presbyterians in the year prior, and seeing the practical implications of theology that humbled the heart of my husband, it was something that I began to fear a lot less. After wrestling, we ended up going in a different direction. But we go in that direction with a profound belief that we serve a God who keeps His promises, that His Covenantal love is good and remains forever, and that it is indeed a blessing we get to be a part of His Covenantal community. We will be His people, and He will be our God. This profound belief has been shaped in our lives in large part by the teaching and shepherding of the professors at RTS.
So, maybe it’s safe to say, I’ve got a little Presbyo in my blood now too. And I’m okay with that. Because I am ever so grateful I made a covenant with a man who believes in covenants before a God who keeps His.